Some patients and doctors in Indiana are worried that increased restrictions imposed in response to the national opioid epidemic may reduce access to necessary medication.
Gov. Eric Holcomb signed three bills last month into law that will take effect July 1. One of the new laws requires doctors to check the state’s drug monitoring system before prescribing opioids or benzodiazepines, an anti-anxiety medication.
The increased focus on prescribing with little consensus on what doctors should do is leading to a “chilling effect” in the doctors’ offices, said Dr. James Murphy, a pain specialist practicing in New Albany.
“If a doctor gets in trouble for prescribing, (if) they violate a regulation, they could lose their license, they could lose their livelihood, or they could go to jail even,” he said.
Murphy said he can see restrictions tightening in the coming years through direct legislation or through other barriers to the drugs. But he said he doesn’t mind the extra limitations.
“I just think all of this adds up to make patients nervous, it makes doctors not want to do it,” Murphy said. “My hope is that physicians, if they truly believe a patient needs to be on these medications, they do their homework, they think about it, they make a good decision and then they keep doing what they can to keep the patient well.”
Kate Caufield, an Indiana patient who takes opioids, said she’s glad doctors will use more vigilance in prescribing, but she doesn’t know where it may eventually lead.
“My biggest fear is that we decide as a nation that we can’t have these and we just get rid of an entire class of medicine,” said Caufield, who takes the medicine for her restless leg syndrome. “I feel like there could be limitations placed on it that could be very difficult for people with careers and lives and families.”
Holcomb said that someone dies from the opioid epidemic every 12-and-a-half seconds across the U.S. and that states “have to do everything we can to bend that trajectory down.”
“Our state can only be as strong as any one of us, and we’re not going to forget those who are struggling, who are most in need of help,” he said.